By Jessica Lovell
When Tania Van Spyk received a royal summons from His Majesty the Secret King of Guelph to report to work at the Crown Barber Shop, it was a dream come true, or so the story goes.
She’s never set eyes on the elusive emperor, but then, no one has. After all, he isn’t real.
The monocled monarch that adorns the window of the Silvercreek Parkway barber shop is just one of a number of whimsical elements that husband Gregory ‘Seth’ Gallant dreamed up for the newly opened business.
“When the idea came up, I automatically knew I wanted to design it,” says the cartoonist and illustrator best known by his pen name Seth. “I wanted to create a shop that felt like it had been around for a long time,” he says.
The idea for the shop came up years ago, when Van Spyk first became interested in barbering. The couple has spent years collecting the items that would eventually give the shop its current old-time, yet elegant, style.
The shop is filled with elements that evoke a golden age of barbering from around the 1940s or the 1950s.
There are two old-fashioned barber’s chairs, upholstered in a bright blue selected because it’s both clean and symbolically masculine, says Seth.
They match the blue linoleum checkerboard floors and stand out against the silvery mirrors and cabinetry.
“The most exciting part was the cabinetry,” says Van Spyk, explaining that her father is a carpenter and worked with Seth on the finished product. “I’m proud of them both for creating such a unique and beautiful design.”
The cabinets, which feature a crown logo, are topped with Formica and chrome taken from 1950s tables.
There is also a working antique wooden cash register that opens with a pleasing ring, an antique picture of some master barbers from the 1920s, and a nautical-looking bell which
Van Spyk rings to mark the opening and closing of each day.
A Seth-sculpted model of the “secret king” overlooks the shop from beneath a bell jar on an upper shelf. The fellow is meant to be a trademark character in the tradition of such icons as the Pillsbury Dough Boy, says Seth.
The shop’s fictitious history is told in a framed newspaper page that adorns one wall.
“It’s all just meant to be kind of fun,” says Seth, who enjoyed the interior design project and plans to continue fine tuning the elements as he learns what the shop needs.
“It’s fun to design a space and really get down to the details,” he says.
The shop has been open for just a couple of weeks, but it is the realization of a much longer vision.
“I’ve had an interest in barbering for eight years,” says Van Spyk. She made it her goal to have an old-fashioned shop where she could practise the skilled profession. She apprenticed for about 3,000 hours to learn the trade, which is not taught at beauty school.
“I had to find a barber shop,” says Van Spyk. “There is no training in barbering unless you learn from a master.”
In a profession that has traditionally been dominated by men, Van Spyk herself may be the most non-traditional element of her shop. But she says it’s actually not uncommon these days for women to become barbers.
As the old barbers retired and their sons declined to take over the business, women coming out of hairdressing training were meeting a need, she says.
But more than just meeting a need and finding herself work at the same time, Van Spyk held a specific desire to cut men’s hair.
“I just find men’s hair to be more sculptural,” she says, noting she also enjoys the pace and efficiency of barbering.
“I enjoy the quality of life of being a barber,” she says. That includes the personal interaction and the chance to meet with and get to know men from every strata. “You get to know all the good and bad in their lives,” she says. “I love hearing their stories.”
As well, laughs Seth, turning to his wife, “as you’ve often said to me, men don’t cry when they get a bad haircut.”